Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Dungeons and Dragons (the label, the original characters from the series, or the premise behind it). The following is a work of fiction based on the animated show of the early 1980's and references are being made without the permission of the copyright owners. I am making no money from this; only the pleasure of writing about a program that I have found enjoyment in for years. The work itself is mine, as are several new characters. If you wish to copy, distribute, or refer to this story (as well as characters and events within), please give proper notice and credit to the author.
Author's Note: This story is set to take place after the events of Michael Reaves' Requiem (the "official," but never-produced, last episode of D&D). Several references are made to the action occurring within that script, with some allusions to my own previous works of fiction thrown in for good measure! (Reading any of my other stories is not really necessary to understand the events of this fic. Requiem can be found on the web at Mr. Reaves' own site. I would definitely suggest reading it before reading this one. -- Plus, it's really good!) Please, R&R! I always appreciate your questions, comments, and constructive criticism. Thank you all . . . and enjoy!
Rating: PG-13 for some language and violent elements
"Thank Yous": My heartfelt thanks to Victoria Bishop, as I used some of the last names created by her. To the following for all their help: Heidi for all your input and great feedback, the "Editorial Queen" for your proofreading skills and literary expertise, and to Alavahr for your terrific information about the RPG!
A Dungeons and Dragons Fan Fiction
By N.L. Rummi
Chapter 1 -- Unions and Reunions
"Does Bobby know what time to pick us up?"
"I told him 3:30," came the voice from upstairs.
"3:30?" The blonde man emerged at the foot of the steps, a confused look on his face as he fumbled to knot his necktie. "Our plane isn't scheduled to land until 4:00!"
A robed woman appeared from around the corner at the top of the stairs, bent forward at the waist as she towel-dried her hair. As she straightened upright, she flipped her head back and pulled the towel into a turban atop her head. She flashed a bright smile. "I know," she said sweetly, "But knowing my brother, if I tell him 4:00 he'll get there at 4:30. So, this way, he's more likely to arrive on time!"
The man snickered as he turned his full attention back to his tie. "Are you excited?" he called again. "We haven't seen--Whoa!" He jumped as he glanced up to see his wife suddenly standing at the foot of the steps directly in front of him. He automatically relinquished his hold on the tie as she reached forward to straighten it for him. "God, Sheila," he mused with a laugh, "I don't think I'll ever get used to how you do that!"
"Do what, Hank?" Sheila asked with playful innocence.
Hank wrapped his arms around her waist and smiled down at her. "Move without me seeing it," he replied, even though she knew very well what he meant. Sheila often moved silently and unnoticeably, and often without even realizing it. It was something she had been able to do for years. A skill she had unwittingly honed as a teenager.
"Yes, I'm excited," Sheila confirmed, giving Hank a quick kiss before heading back upstairs to finish getting ready, "So are Mom and Dad. They haven't seen their granddaughter in ages! They were disappointed when we couldn't make it in for an extended stay for your reunion last time."
"I was, too," Hank replied as he made his way up the stairs to stand in the bathroom doorway, "But not about my class reunion. I didn't mind missing that. I was sorry because we hadn't gotten to see your folks since the Christmas before." He grabbed a few items off the sink to put into his travel bag. "I would never miss your class reunion, though. There are more important people at that one!"
Sheila turned to him with a smile. "I spoke to all of them," she said. "As far as I know, they're all coming."
Hank gave an enthused nod. "Great," he said, "Guess I'll rally the troops!" He walked down the hall, stopped in front of a room at the very end, and knocked. When all that could be heard was the not-so-faint din of music coming from inside, he knocked a bit louder.
"I said come in!" a voice called from the inside.
Hank poked his head through the door. "Sorry, Honey," he said, "I didn't hear you. You almost ready?"
A young girl turned to face him. She looked every bit like her mother. The cloudy blue-green eyes, the porcelain skin, even the light freckles that dotted her nose and cheeks. She did, however, have the thick blonde hair of her father, grown just past her shoulders.
"Almost, Daddy," she responded as she placed the last travel necessity in her bag: A slightly worn rag-doll with an Eastern Mediterranean look that her mother had given to her years ago. As a small child, the girl remembered the care her mother had taken of the doll -- as though it was precious to her; irreplaceable. On the day that Sheila had given it to her daughter, the young girl had felt so proud to be entrusted with something that her mom so obviously treasured. The delicate tinkling of the bell around the doll's waist had lulled her to sleep countless times. Even now, although the child was nearly 15 years old, she never left home without it. She packed it carefully in her suitcase and made a last minute check.
"Okay, then," Hank smiled at her as he backed his head out the door, "Bring your bag down to the foyer when you have everything. We're leaving in a half hour, Ayesha."
"And . . . presto!"
The children who had gathered in the pediatrics ward of the hospital clapped excitedly as the ginger-haired man pulled a bouquet of flowers literally from the air. Some of the kids there were patients, some were brothers or sisters of patients, but all were happy and grateful for the distraction provided by the hospital's resident magician.
Dr. Preston Myers was a common fixture at the Citywide Community Hospital, although he did have a private practice across town. He was a general practitioner of pediatric medicine, but it had been a long time coming. Initially, he had wanted to go into research medicine, and had actually done so for a short time following med school. There was a time in his life when toiling over blood samples on slides in a secluded lab would have suited him just fine.
Since he was a teenager, Preston had had an aversion to people; mainly because he usually ended up being the butt of their jokes and ridicule. The perpetual "brain," he had skipped a grade in high school and ended up graduating two years younger than most of his peers, having, at the time, just turned 16. He was your classic nerd; or so it had been pointed out, rather cruelly at times. However, this all changed toward the end of his junior year -- because of some very special friends -- and afterwards, working in isolation wasn't as appealing anymore.
After spending enough time as a researcher, looking at the world through a microscope, Preston decided to go back to the land of the living. Back to where he could use science to make a difference . . . and use his other talents to make people happy. Whenever a patient's case brought him to the hospital, Dr. Presto, as he came to be called, would often spend time in the lounge of the pediatrics wing doing a little magic for the kids there. It was a far cry from the power he had once wielded, but common slight-of-hand was certainly enough to bring a smile to the face of a sick child.
Preston handed the bouquet to a little girl in a nearby wheelchair, and took his leave of the applauding children. He wouldn't be seeing them again for several days, taking some time off to attend his high school class reunion this weekend and, hopefully, reunite with some old friends during the coming week. As he grabbed his coat on his way out of the doctor's lounge, he felt a vibration on his hip. Preston's hand flew to his pager and he looked nervously at it.
He sighed with relief. It was Maggie, but there was no 9-1-1 code accompanying her page. There would have been if she were on her way to the hospital. Preston knew that Maggie wasn't due for another month, but he couldn't help but be excited, nervous, and jumpy at the idea of being a father again.
The Myers already had one daughter, Valerie. She was 13 and Preston's pride and joy, even though she had only been living with them for a little over a year. Maggie's job as a social worker often left her managing wards of the state, kids needing foster care. Preston remembered how Maggie had told him about little Valerie at the dinner table one night; and when she mentioned the girl's nickname, Preston had quietly asked to meet her.
. . . Varla.
Red hair, gray eyes . . . It was uncanny. Almost as though she was meant to come to them.
Child Services had had a difficult time finding placement for the girl. She had been bounced to several foster homes and, because of her age, was hardly ever a candidate for adoption. When Varla arrived at the Myers' house, Preston fell in love with her right away. Seven months later, he and Maggie were signing the papers that would make her a part of their family forever. Now, almost six months after that, the Myers were on the threshold of adding yet another blessing to their list of many. The only thing that could make Preston happier was seeing the friends that had started it all for him.
He picked up the pay phone near the hospital entrance and dialed his wife. "You beeped?" he asked as she answered the call.
"I just wanted to check and see if you had pulled yourself away from your adoring fans, Presto," Maggie teased. Presto smiled. She was one of the only ones who still called him that.
"I'm just leaving now," he replied. "The reunion starts at 7:00, right?"
"Right," she confirmed, "And Sheila called to say that she and Hank should be landing at 4:00. They'll meet us at the Belize Royale in time for cocktails."
"Mocktails for you," Presto grinned. "Where's the princess?"
"She's going down the street for her sleepover at Lisa's, but she wanted to see you before she left. How soon can you get home?"
"I'll be there in five minutes."
Presto could feel Maggie smiling through the phone. "Now how are you going to do that? You're all the way across town!"
"Magic," Presto replied with a grin.
Eric Montgomery picked up the phone on the first ring. "He-llo!"
"Greetings, Eric!" the woman on the other end addressed him cheerfully.
"Hey, Cassie. What's up?" Eric asked.
"I'm just calling to let you know that you have a message."
Eric smiled. "You know you don't have to do that," he said. "I do have a secretary that takes my messages."
"You gave Angela the day off, remember?" Cassie replied. "And doesn't she prefer to be called an 'assistant?'"
"I won't tell if you won't," Eric said as he motioned for his driver to take the upcoming exit. He had originally been on his way home, but his father had just called from New York about ten minutes ago and asked him to check on something at the office. Eric had wanted to get that out of the way before tonight. Chances were good that he wouldn't be spending a lot of time working this week.
"Besides," Cassie continued, "This call wasn't into your office phone. This one came through on your private line."
"Oh," Eric responded as he clicked his pen closed and put it back into the inside breast pocket of his suit coat. Not a business call. He didn't get many of that type. "Who was it?"
"Your friend Sheila. She wanted to make sure you would be attending your reunion tonight and to remind you that she and her husband would be getting to the reception hall around 7:00."
The corners of Eric's mouth involuntarily curved upward. He was really looking forward to seeing them again. He glanced at his watch -- 3:30 now. He would allow himself an hour at the office. An hour and a half tops. That way, with the additional hour-long drive back home, he would have just enough time to get ready and meet them at the Belize Royale at 7:00. He cupped his hand over the mouthpiece of his cell phone and asked the driver to hurry. The sooner he got there, the sooner he could get back.
"Thanks, Cass," Eric said. "Home phone or not, taking my messages is not in your job description. I appreciate you relaying that one, though. I'll be home in time. By the way," he added, "Speaking of the job I pay you for, how's the big guy?"
"He's been eager to see you, Eric," Cassie replied.
"Put him on."
"Hey, Dad," a youthful voice was heard over the phone.
"Hi, John," Eric greeted the boy while balancing the cell phone on his shoulder so he could sift through his briefcase for the papers he would need upon arriving at the office. "How was school today, Son?"
"S'okay," John answered with a shrug. "Math sucks."
"It's supposed to, Son, it's math," Eric replied matter-of-factly as he located the folder he needed.
"Are you coming home now?"
Ooohh! Eric was afraid of that. He felt like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. John always seemed to manage to ask that question whenever Eric was at the farthest point away from home . . . and still headed in the opposite direction. To admit that he had to, in fact, go back to the office made him cringe. If he could think of a good excuse . . . .
Waitaminnit! he thought as he straightened in his seat, I'm the parent here! Don't get all defensive, Eric! He's your son! "I can't, John," Eric admitted assertively. "Grandpa needs me to do a couple things here yet. I'll be home in a few hours."
"Okay," the boy said, his voice noticeably disappointed. "But remember you promised that you'd come to my hockey game tonight. At 8:00, remember?"
Ouch! Another blow! Eric let out a cautious groan through his teeth as he remembered the hockey game. "John," he said as a gentle reminder, "You know I have that reunion tonight. Now, I did promise to come to a game, but you know it can't be this one. I'm guessing that Cassie told you that."
The boy grumbled an agreement.
"Come on, Sport," Eric said in a more cheerful voice, "There'll be others! And Cassie's gonna go and take pictures for me. You can give me a play-by-play when I see you tomorrow!"
John grumbled a muddled goodbye before handing the phone back to Cassie. "Take pictures," Eric instructed before the woman even announced her return to the phone, "Lots of pictures. Hell, I want to be able to make a flip-book with the photos you take! I wanna see everything! Got it?"
"Yes, Sir," Cassie responded. "He'll be okay."
"Of course he will," Eric confirmed. He then took his leave of Cassie and snapped the phone closed to end the call. He sat for a moment, brooding. He felt guilty for how busy he'd been lately. He remembered how tough it had been to not have his own father around as a kid. Yeah, he thought, But you're doing all this for your son! He'll understand -- and you'll make it up to him. You always do!
Eric's situation had been different. He, at least, had his mother while growing up. And he always felt that his father just didn't care enough to be around. While things were different between them now, it had still been very difficult to feel second best -- even though he later learned that it wasn't true. Eric himself, however, didn't have a choice. Ever since Denise died, he was the only one that John could look to. It was a little over 11 years that Eric had been a single parent, and trying to give his son everything placed him at work a good portion of the time.
But the boy did have Cassie. Eric had found a gold mine in her -- nanny and nurse! Cassie Masterson had absolutely adored John from the moment he was born. She had been the RN assigned to Eric's wife when Denise was rushed to the emergency room with acute abdominal pain one month before she was scheduled to deliver. Cassie had stayed with Denise when she was brought up to Obstetrics and remained by her side during the difficult delivery. She had also been the one to take care of the baby while the doctors attempted to resuscitate his mother following complications. She likewise had the unfortunate task of keeping a frantic Eric out of the delivery room during that time.
When Cassie brought John to Eric in what would have been his wife's room, the young man couldn't keep himself from crying uncontrollably as he held his son. Partly because he had lost the woman who had given this bundle to him, and partly because the tiny boy was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And Eric had seen his share of unforgettable things in his short lifetime.
Before Cassie could leave, Eric asked her something that was probably a reflex reaction to his grief and to his feeling of being suddenly alone. The idea of raising the baby without his wife had Eric so scared that he fell back on the instinct of using his money to solve his problems -- he offered Cassie a job. To most people, the offer would have seemed inconceivable. To leave her job at the hospital and take care of a baby full time? And this kid, proposing that she work for him, couldn't have been more than 23 or 24 years old. But this "kid" was insistent. He was also Harlan Montgomery's son . . . and his offer was more than generous.
Something about the woman had drawn Eric to her from the beginning. There was an almost familiar reassurance about her personality and even her blue eyes radiated a familial glow. Eric knew that a nanny would never take the place of a mother, but the baby boy needed someone. Eric also made up his mind that he would do everything in his power to see that John had anything he could ever want. And he was determined to do it better than his own father had done for him.
Eric scowled as he thought of the missed hockey game. He checked his watch. Maybe he wouldn't need to spend so much time at the office after all. If he could do what he had to do quickly and then get home, maybe he could see John for a little while before they both had to rush off to their respective destinations. Eric took out his pen again and clicked it open. He jotted something down on some of the papers he had retrieved from his briefcase. This shouldn't take too long, he thought as the car pulled in front of his father's building. And I will make it up to him. I always do.
Robert O'Brien checked his watch again, then looked at Gate 7A. The status board said that the flight hadn't been delayed. So, where the hell were they? He exhaled forcefully, his lips creating an annoyed flutter, and reached for the overpriced magazine he had picked up at the airport's newsstand to pass the time. Sheila and Hank were lucky that her reunion fell during the same week as the university's spring break, or he wouldn't be free to waste this much time waiting for them.
Actually, he should still be there. The team did have practice today, conditioning for those students who opted to stay on campus during the week-long vacation. But Robert had taken a personal afternoon to pick up his sister and Hank at the airport. He knew Mom and Dad would have done it, but he had insisted. (Even though now he was eating his words. They were really late!) But he had missed seeing them and his niece, Ayesha, the last time they were in town because the team had had a tournament in Baltimore.
As a teenager, and even throughout college, if anyone had told Robert O'Brien that he would one day be an assistant baseball coach at a local university instead of the major leaguer that he had dreamed of being, he would have said they were crazy. Furthermore, if anyone had told him that he would end up loving the job, he would have probably laughed his head off. Yet, here he was, 26 and already worked his way up to a position as an assistant head coach of the very team he had played for in college. And despite the long days, mandatory practices, coach meetings that went to all hours, and seemingly endless road trips for away games, Robert loved what he was doing.
Of course it was a million miles from where he had seen himself ending up. Not too long ago, Robert was the star player that scouts salivate over. His batting average was nearly perfect. During the course of one game, he would be known to hit a home run at least 3 out of 5 times at bat -- with the other two usually setting a teammate up to score. In fact, there were supposed to have been several scouts attending the final games of his senior year. His shot at the minors (at least!) seemed imminent -- one more stepping stone toward his dream. If it wasn't for the surgery needed to repair some torn cartilage in his knee, it probably would have happened, too.
It had been an accident, really. And a perfectly preventable one, at that. Robert's girlfriend Teri had warned him about going to that party. He ignored it and chalked it up to simple worry. About 16 years ago, the young man would have listened to her every word as though it was the law that governed the universe. But over time, Teri's ability to dream future events faded. Sometimes things that she predicted would happen, and sometimes they wouldn't. But Robert never complained about the increasing normalcy. He had been without that for too long as a child. Having a girlfriend who fretted over him but couldn't quite explain why was normal enough for him.
Teri knew that Robert didn't drink, and he did say that he'd be careful. But he had also promised some of his buddies that he would put in an appearance at their frat house. So he did want to go. When Robert first arrived, one of his friend's fraternity brothers, a guy that Robert didn't even know that well, decided to surprise him with a welcoming tackle. When the beefy man jumped on his back, Robert could feel his knee pop and twist out from underneath him. The doctors said that the cartilage was torn and could be fixed, but that his rehabilitation period would last far beyond the end of baseball season. The scouts never got to see him play.
So when he accepted the job offered to him by his old coach following graduation, it was bittersweet. He was glad for the work and that he would still be involved with the sport that he loved; the sport that he had hoped would become his life. Unfortunately, he would never know what might have been. But now, upon attaining assistant head coach status four years later, Robert couldn't picture himself doing anything else. Well, maybe he could. And maybe that was why he was also attending the university again part time, trying to secure his Master's degree in health and physical education -- hoping to one day be a head coach and teacher in his own right.
Robert tried to force down the smile that was appearing on his face as he heard the voice of his niece from the gate exit. Any façade of annoyance that he had been trying to develop was fading away. He stood up and walked toward the gate to meet Sheila, Hank and Ayesha.
The girl ran to him for a hug. "Hi, Uncle Bobby!"
So it began! After all the hard work he had put in trying to get everyone to call him Robert, it was going to be "Bobby" again. Hank and his sister couldn't seem to call him anything else. And, of course, everyone else, knowing how he desired to have a more adult-sounding name, wouldn't be able to help themselves either -- even if it was just to irk him! The only people that he never seemed to mind calling him that were his girlfriend Teri and, of course, his niece. Bobby sighed, resigned. At least the guys on the team wouldn't be hearing this. If they started calling him "Coach Bobby" that would be his signal to leave town.
Bobby returned Ayesha's hug and planted a kiss on top of her head. "Hi, Honey," he said, "How was the flight?"
"Great!" Ayesha replied. She loved to fly. In fact, the girl loved just about anything that got her in the air. Brave and adventurous -- she reminded Bobby of himself sometimes.
"Here, I got you a magazine," Bobby said, giving her the book that he had picked up earlier. "It's got an article on those Backstreet Boys that you love so much."
Ayesha took the magazine. "Thanks," she said, looking at it. "This is 'N SYNC, Uncle Bobby."
Bobby shrugged. "What do I know? All those boy bands are the same to me anyway."
Ayesha raised her eyebrow. "You're kidding, right?" She then smiled again. "Well, I like both of them! Thanks, Uncle Bobby!" Ayesha got on her tiptoes to give Bobby another kiss as Sheila and Hank emerged from the gate.
Bobby held up his watch and said, in his best voice of aggravation, "You said 3:30!"
"Did I?" Sheila teased. "Well, Bobby, if I knew you would be on time for once I would have said 4:00!" She approached her brother and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a squeeze. "So good to see you!"
"Yeah, you, too," Bobby responded, the irritation that he had tried to maintain melting away at the joy of seeing his family again. He broke away from his sister and turned to her husband, hand outstretched. "Hey, Hank!"
Hank took Bobby's hand and pulled him into a hug. "How've you been, pal?"
Bobby gave Hank's arm a forceful pat of affection as he stepped out of the embrace. "Can't complain," he said. "The team may be going to another championship tournament this year."
"I'm not surprised," Hank responded, "With a pro like you showing them how it's done!"
"Nah," Bobby waved Hank away modestly, "We've got some real talent on that team. Nothing I can do can affect that." Bobby still took a moment to absorb and smile at the compliment before offering to help with their bags.
Hank and Shiela linked hands and followed Bobby toward the baggage claim. Bobby looked back at them. So that was what almost 16 years of marriage could look like. He remembered their wedding -- only a few months after Sheila had graduated from high school. There was a lot of mixed feelings about the young couple. Many believed that they were rushing into it; that they hadn't even known or dated each other long enough. But Bobby knew that they had spent more time loving each other than many married couples.
It was impossible to explain to anyone who wasn't there. To the outside world, Hank and Sheila's first date at the local amusement park had only lasted several hours -- a beautiful, warm Sunday in mid-April. But to them, and four other friends, that "day" extended into what felt like two, maybe three years of hardship, struggle, and, most importantly, growing. All of them had changed during that time. Some became braver while others learned the value of vulerability. Some became stronger while learning to accept and not condemn their weaknesses. And some fell in love.
Hank had been a rock for all of them. But as a result of needing to remain the strong leader, he had distanced himself from his growing feelings for Sheila. He hadn't wanted to show the girl any special treatment because her special skills were invaluable to the team and to their goal of reaching home. Still, it killed him every time he had to order her into danger.
After what had felt like an eternity, when they finally did reach home, Hank found himself confronted with the most difficult trial that he ever had to face. With all the bravery he had shown in the Realm, he felt reduced to a frightened child at the prospect of admitting how much he had come to care for this girl. But Sheila had been by his side non-stop since they first entered that crazy world and Hank was even more troubled by the idea of that coming to an end now that they were back were they belonged.
So, the two became inseparable during the final months of school that year and throughout Hank's first year at the university just outside town. So much so, that following Sheila's graduation, Hank asked her to marry him.
There was a lot of skepticism surrounding the union. Hank was still in school, and the first few years were certainly a struggle, especially with a newly arrived little one to care for. Even with the help given to them by their parents. But Sheila, in the wisdom that she seemed to have that was far beyond her years, was convinced that no matter what life served them it couldn't be more difficult than what they'd already had to face.
She had been right. In fact, a few years later, Hank's promising legal career actually turned into an even more promising professorship at the law school he had been attending. In accepting a teaching assistantship in history to help pay for his education, Hank discovered that he truly enjoyed teaching and eventually went for his doctorate in History Education instead of becoming the lawyer he had originally intended to be. His classes were usually the first to fill as his students enjoyed the charisma and passion with which he taught.
For her part, Sheila opted to be a stay-at-home mom, but that didn't stop her from taking classes at the community college near their new home. She found English and Literature to be her niche and, inspired by her young daughter, had begun writing children's books. She now had seven under her belt. They were by no means best sellers, yet, but the work kept her happy and fulfilled. Just like her family did.
When Bobby and Hank had finished packing the car, Sheila climbed into the back seat with Ayesha, leaving the front for the two men. Bobby sighed as he eased behind the wheel. "I sure envy you guys!" he said. "Be sure to tell everybody hello for me. You're gonna be having all kinds of reunions tonight!"
"Mom?" Ayesha asked, "Didn't you say this was your 15 year class reunion? I thought you graduated, like, longer ago than that!"
Sheila rolled her eyes with a mischiveous smile. "Why, thank you, Darling!" she said, "It's nice to know someone is keeping track of my true age for me!" She then laughed and added, "Well, if some members of the reunion committee had booked the reception hall in enough time, maybe we wouldn't have been over a year late!"
Hank laughed. "At least we're going," he said, "I would have hated to wait another five years, instead of just one, for another guaranteed get-together with the old gang." Then turning to Bobby, "I wish you could come, too, pal. I know the others would love to see you. I'm hoping we can all meet tomorrow."
Sheila raked her fingers through Ayesha's blonde hair as the girl flipped through her magazine. "I know I want them to see Ayesha," she said. "It's been a while since our daughter has seen the other members of our family."
Cocktails started at the Belize Royale promptly at 7:00, and Hank and Sheila were right on time, leaving Ayesha with Sheila's parents and Bobby for the evening. Sheila fumbled with the name tag she had been given while Hank went to get them each a red wine. They casually greeted old acquaintances, but continued to scan the crowd for the familiar faces that they were truly looking for.
It wasn't long before one found them.
"Hey there, Mr. and Mrs. 'No-We're-Not-Really-Attracted-To-Each-Other'!"
Hank and Sheila turned around to a familiar smirk. "Eric!" Sheila exclaimed delightedly as she stepped forward to embrace her old friend. Hank reached forward to grip Eric's hand before Sheila could even release him from their hug. "Hey, man! How have you been?"
The former Cavalier shrugged. "Good . . . Busy . . . Extremely busy . . . but good."
"Tell us how you've really been!" Sheila joked. "How's John?"
Eric whipped a photograph out of his wallet. "John's great!" he said. "He has a hockey game tonight. He's one of their high scorers! Right wing. How about your little girl?"
"She's not so little anymore," Hank said, "But it's been a while since you've seen her. She's almost 15." Sheila procured a picture from her purse as well. "She's perfect," the proud mother beamed.
Eric whistled at the photo. "Boy, she has gotten to be quite the stunner! I can't believe she's in high school now! When did she grow up?" Eric shook his head and handed the picture back to Sheila. "Some kids grow up so fast," he repeated, more to himself.
"And some never grow up at all, right, Eric?" came a nasally, highly recognizable voice from behind them.
"Hey!" Eric returned as he spun around, "At least I don't perform card tricks for kids as part of my job description! Talk about not growing up!" He stretched out his hand. "How're you doing, Presto?"
Presto flashed a mock scowl at his best friend. "Well, you'd know if you ever returned my phone calls!" he said. "I mean, I am right here in town, you know!"
"I know. I'm sorry. I just . . . ." Eric's words stopped abruptly as his eyes settled, rather indiscreetly, on Maggie who was removing her coat. She smiled at him and rubbed her very prominent stomach before turning to Presto and offering to get them both a drink.
"I'll have whatever you're having, Hon," Presto answered, giving his wife a kiss as she turned to leave. Upon facing Eric again, he saw that the dark-haired man had a very amused grin on his face.
"You dog!" Eric guffawed as he gave Presto a shot in the arm. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I did," Presto insisted as a light blush crept up into his cheeks, "Months ago in the Christmas card we sent you!"
"Ahhh," Eric mused as though it was all becoming clear, "That would have been December, right? Well, that explains it! I've only just dipped into late October in my backlog of mail! I won't get around to December for at least another couple weeks!" Eric then grinned broadly. "Congratulations, man," he said earnestly, catching Presto in a hug as Maggie approached with the drinks, "I'm really happy for you both!" Hank and Sheila echoed Eric's well-wishes and, after several more hugs all around, the group of friends settled into engrossed conversation.
"Oh, by the way!" Hank said, "Bobby says hello to everybody. I promised that we'd all try to get together for a little reunion of our own special club! Maybe tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I think I can swing that," Eric said. Everyone else agreed. "So . . . ," he hesitated, "That just leaves one more . . . ."
"You guys weren't starting the party without me, were you?"
The group turned to welcome the last to arrive. She stood behind them, arms crossed the way she always used to, a confident smile glowing on her face. She hadn't changed a bit. Aside from the fact that her hair was much shorter, cropped closer to her head, she looked exactly the same.
The young woman opened her arms to her friends for a big group hug. "Sorry I'm late, guys," she said, "My flight was delayed, traffic was torture, and I had to swing by my brother's house first to finish getting ready!" She pulled out of the hug and glowed at all of them again. "So, what'd I miss?" Her eyes momentarily focused on Eric and her wide smile softened a bit. "Hey."
"Hey," he responded quietly, "Uh -- Nothing! You didn't miss anything yet. We were just doing some family re-caps!" Eric craned his neck to look past her. "Where's that husband of yours?"
Diana's eyes found the floor, but her smile never lessened. "Cale is . . . ," she shrugged, "Still back home."
"Oh," Eric said apologetically, "Couldn't make it? Did he have to work or did you just need to loosen the apron strings and take a solo trip?"
Diana looked up again and Eric suddenly got the feeling he had said something terribly wrong. "This is an open bar, right?" Diana asked cheerfully as she backed away. "Can I interest anyone else as long as I'm up there?" Everyone shook their heads or motioned that they already had something. "Okay then," Diana said with a wink, "Be right back and we'll finish catching up. Don't start without me!"
As she left, Eric felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to face Sheila. "Was it something I said?" he asked with concern.
"You didn't know," Sheila replied gently. "Diana didn't tell many people yet. Cale left her . . . a couple months ago. They're finalizing the divorce."
"God," Eric said almost inwardly, "I knew I hadn't talked to her in a long time. A long time -- but this . . . . I guess I figured Cale was at home . . . watching kids or something."
Sheila sighed. "Well, Eric, we think that might have been part of the problem. Diana seems to think that Cale left her because he couldn't handle the fact that she can't have children."
Diana placed some money in the bartender's tip jar as he set her white wine in front of her on the counter. As an afterthought, she decided to order another -- Southern Comfort on the rocks, Cale's favorite.
The two had only been married for about three years, the wedding being a few months before her thirtieth birthday. Before meeting Cale, Diana had worried that she would be a lifetime member of the lonely-hearts-club; having twice met a man that she thought to be her soul mate, and twice losing him to unavoidable circumstance.
First, there had been Kosar. Gentle, soft-spoken, brave, and beautiful in every way. Losing him to a prophesy that she didn't quite understand, an age-old destiny that she was forced to help him fulfill, was more than she could bear for a long time. Being told that he would always remember her wasn't comfort enough. Being told that she would know him again was worse. It was like the mirage of an oasis in an endless desert; something that Diana could never know to be truly real, yet dangled before her like a hopeful promise. It never occurred to her that "knowing" her love again meant in the embodiment of someone else. That came as a surprise -- but no more surprising than the form taken by her next "Kosar."
For as long as she had known him, Diana hadn't liked him. He was arrogant, pushy, narcissistic, and rude more often than not. But during their time in the Realm, Eric had become more than a better, more grown-up version of himself. In the beginning, there had been a great deal of bantering between he and Diana. In the beginning . . . well, actually it had never stopped. But what started out as sarcastic verbal battles became lighthearted teasing, and finally, after a long while, affectionate friendship. The Cavalier had posed a challenge that Kosar never did. And he also had been the true friend to her that the Child of the Stargazer never got the chance to be. As time continued to progress in the Realm, the two became even closer . . . and Diana felt that she had found her "Kosar" again.
Unfortunately, things rarely go according to plan -- in this world or any other. Diana couldn't say exactly what it was that caused them to drift apart upon returning home. It was probably a mixture of bigotry and ignorance in general on the part of all involved. Her father had cautioned her against the problems facing interracial couples . . . and especially their children. Eric's father had kindly referred to it as "social pressure." Throw in the fact that no one could ever understand, or believe, what had happened in the Realm, and you had a growing strain that eventually took its toll on the couple.
They didn't speak much after that, although they did do their best to keep in touch, at first. She remembered how happy Eric had been for her when she made the Olympic gymnastics team going to LA. Conversely, it had been very difficult for Diana to hear about Eric's impending marriage, to the daughter of one of his father's business contacts, a few years later. And most of their correspondence ended after that. Reunions, like this one, were usually the only times that they saw each other.
She had met CaleVaughn through a friend after moving out to attend UCLA for a Masters in Physical Therapy. After her first run at the Olympics, and losing the gold to teammate Mary Lou Retton, she decided against waiting another four years to try again. Her heart just wasn't in the competition any more. Diana, the Acrobat, knew what she was capable of. She also felt more fulfilled helping other people, as she had during her time in the Realm, than by working to gain a shiny, gold piece of metal for herself.
She went to college and earned a degree in Kinesiology. Remembering how much she had loved the Los Angeles area while staying there during the Olympics, she then moved out to California with a former roommate to study to be a physical therapist specializing in sports medicine. Cale was a friend of a patient with whom Diana had grown close.
When she met him, Diana was stuck by the sharp contrast between Cale and herself. She being a combination of brains, confidence and fearlessness; he being the most grounded and domestic man she had ever known. In fact, when they got married Cale had looked forward to starting a family right away. Diana got more and more excited the more Cale talked about the huge family they were going to have.
It was like being trapped in a bad dream when the doctors said that that was impossible.
Diana was shattered at the news, and even though Cale stayed by her side through all the tests and fertility treatments, she could see the distress in his face every time she looked at him. The doctors gave them little cause to hope and offered little by way of an explanation for their situation. But somewhere inside, Diana knew.
In her dreams, even now, Diana could still feel the magic coursing through her as it had when she stood in the Temple of Light. Upon entering the pyramidal column of illumination, she had instantly felt the senation of being pulled in all directions by forces stronger than anything she had ever known. She could sense its power, both inside and out. Nothing else in the Realm even came close to that. Starfall was also the only thing that she had done alone, without the others. Everything else, they had faced together. And since, according to the doctors she had seen, there was no medical reason for her not being able to have children, a magical explaination was the only one she could think of. That, and the fact that none of her friends seemed to be having any inexplicable troubles, led Diana to feel that Starfall was the only possible reason. Unfortunately, this was not something that she could easily share with her husband.
Diana thought about the nagging fear of growing older that she had always had. When the only thing she ever wanted to be was a world-class athlete, the notion of aging was very scary. Now that the only thing she wanted to be was a mother, her body wouldn't allow her to progress. The universe was cruelly ironic sometimes.
She had suggested adoption, but was slowly discovering ways in which Cale was very much like her: he was stubborn and he was proud. Not being able to have his own kids, something that he had wanted desperately, was almost like a blow to his manhood -- even though it wasn't he who was the problem. He still took the situation very personally. During the last year of their marriage, Diana began to see evidence of Cale merely going through the motions of being her husband, all the while not seeming to even want to be married to her anymore. It was only a matter of time before he left.
Diana looked at the glass of Southern Comfort on the bar in front of her and took another sip of her wine. Now that she was home, she at least had friends that she loved and trusted. Friends that she could talk to about the things that were bothering her without worrying if they thought she was crazy. And then there was her older brother's family. Diana had always lavished loving attention on her nephew Toby, who was now 17. If she couldn't be a mother, a favorite aunt was the next best thing. She had toyed with the idea of moving back home for a while now. Maybe it was time.
She reached forward with her glass and clinked it against the beverage on the counter with a wry smile. Then, finishing the last of her wine, she turned and left the bar to go back to her friends . . . leaving the glass of Southern Comfort behind.
Hank and Eric had found their way onto the balcony. "I had no idea," Eric said regretfully as he leaned on the railing.
"How could you?" Hank asked, placing a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "She didn't want it broadcast to everybody and--"
"Yeah, but Hank, damn it, I was her friend!" Eric interrupted. "There was a time when we used to tell each other everything! I should have been at her disposal if she needed me. It's not like I don't have the money to fly out to California to be there for her!"
"Well," Hank said, cautiously choosing his words, "You didn't call her when Denise died, buddy. We all heard about it from Presto. It's almost like you don't want to burden each other with your grief . . . given your history."
Eric shook his head. "I hate that that's all we have . . . 'history.' After all we've been through we should at least still be friends."
"You never did tell me why you two decided to call it quits," Hank prompted. "You seemed pretty tight after we left the Realm."
Eric shrugged. "It was nothing I could definitely put a label on," he said. "You remember how when we got back from the Realm it was the same night as when we left?" Hank nodded as Eric continued, "I guess it was just hard, you know. To grow and change so much . . . and then come back to a world that hadn't." Eric looked at his old friend with a smile. "It's a rare couple that can make that work!"
Hank smiled back. "Speaking of couples," he said, "Are you seeing anyone now?"
"Nah," Eric said dismissively, "I barely have time to spend on myself -- or my son for that matter. I tried for a while, but . . . ."
"Nothing like Denise," Hank concluded knowingly.
Eric shook his head. "Or Diana, for that matter," he added.
"Did I hear someone mention my name?"
Hank and Eric looked up to see Diana standing in the doorway to the balcony. Her glowing smile had returned. "Well, c'mon, boys!" she exclaimed as she stepped forward to link arms with both of them. "This is a party, right? If we want it to tide us over until the next time we see each other, we better start celebrating!" She led them back inside to where Sheila, Presto and Maggie were waiting.
There was smoke everywhere.
The air was so hot and thick with smoke that it was difficult to think, much less breathe. The girl watched everything like a movie unfolding before her, but at the same time, it was like she was there. She coughed and took ragged breaths as the noxious fumes assaulted her lungs. Glancing to her right she saw a towering dark figure on horseback. The chaos around her didn't seem to touch him. In fact, he seemed to revel in it, gliding through the smoke and fire as though it were a gentle summer mist.
The girl's head whipped around as another figure appeared on her left. She couldn't see his face either, but he was soon followed by four other bodies stumbling through the charred surroundings. The people behind him had the stature of mere children.
The girl tried to scream as the being on the demonic horse raised his arms, both hands glowing with fiery energy. She could make no sound, no matter how hard she struggled. The only noise in the air was a wordless battle cry erupting from the lungs of the man on the ground as he raised a glowing club. Then, suddenly, everything exploded into fire.
The raven-haired girl jerked awake with a tiny whimper, her head flying up from where it had been -- on a pillow in the lap of her boyfriend. She looked around wildly for a moment before her eyes settled on Bobby. Oh, God, it had been so real!
"Wakey wakey, Sleeping Beauty!" Bobby chided as he shoved another handful of popcorn into his mouth, "You two have practically missed the whole movie!" He motioned to Ayesha who had fallen asleep in the bean bag on the floor. Bobby had invited Teri over to watch a new release to pass the time until Sheila and Hank got home. Teri continued to look around the room. So real!
"I guess it's just as well," she could hear Bobby say. "'Outstanding special effects,' my foot! Did you see that dragon? That was the fakest looking thing I've ever . . . ." His voice trailed off as he looked at his girlfriend. "Ter, you okay?"
Teri didn't look at Bobby, but he could see that her blue eyes were wide with fear and that she was trembling as she stared at the floor. She swallowed hard as she tried to regulate her breathing, a cold sweat forming on her forehead. "Oh, God," Bobby whispered, hitting the mute button on the TV and turning to her with concern. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Teri locked eyes with Bobby, hers filled with a terror that sent chills down the young man's spine. "Worse," she breathed.
Notes: For anyone who may not know, Kinesiology is a study of human muscle movement. It is a multidisciplinary science that is associated with fields such as athletic training, sports psychology, occupational therapy, physical education, exercise science, and physical therapy. (Hmm, sounds like a choice field for our Acrobat!)
A Side Note: In case anyone was wondering, no, I'm not all about prequels and sequels! They just happened to be the first two stories I posted here at . Also, people have been asking me when the next chapter of Advent is being posted. In truth, that one was actually never meant to be a multi-part story. (It sort of ends where the series picks up.) I have written, and do plan to release, several stories about the kids actually in the Realm as dictated by the cannon of the show. I just like to do things a little out of order! VBG
I have always enjoyed being lost in the Realm, and do hope that all who read this story enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! All the best, and stay tuned for Chapter 2: The Gathering.